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Myanmar people welcome junta election promise

People in Myanmar welcome the military government's promise of multi-party elections in 2010 as an opportunity to be seized.

world Updated: Feb 10, 2008 12:52 IST
Aung Hla Tun

People in Myanmar welcomed the military government's promise of multi-party elections in 2010 on Sunday as an opportunity to be seized, despite deep scepticism from opposition politicians and abroad.

"Just get on whatever horse you can catch. Then try to find better ones gradually," a retired professor said four months after the army crushed monk-led, pro-democracy protests, killing at least 31 people.

Roadside food vendor Aung Min, 28, was positively excited. "I can't wait to vote in an election," he said. But, he added: "The most important is all major parties should be allowed to run in it."

The junta's announcement of a May referendum followed by elections in 2010 on state television on Saturday night did not make clear whether detained opposition icon's Aung San Suu Kyi National League for Democracy would be allowed to take part.

The election would be the first held in the former Burma since 1990, when the NLD won a multi-party vote rejected by the military, which has ruled in various guises since 1962 and detained Suu Kyi for much of the interim.

The NLD was sceptical, asking how the junta could set an election date before knowing the outcome of the referendum.

"I can't help but wonder how the referendum will be conducted," NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.

The Burma Campaign UK, a pro-democracy group, dismissed the announcement as "public relations spin" and "nothing to do with democracy".

"It is no coincidence that the announcement comes at a time when the regime is facing increasing economic sanctions following its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations," Campaign director Mark Farmaner said in a statement.

Britain's Foreign Office called for the release of Suu Kyi and other detained political leaders to ensure a "genuine and inclusive process of national reconciliation".

Anything's better

But people in Yangon felt it was a positive development in a country that has seen little of those over the decades.

"It's just like finding somewhere to live for the homeless. Of course it isn't the house of our choice, but it will give us some protection," a retired government officer said.

"We can expect at least a coalition government. That's far better than now," he added.

The retired professor said the NLD, which boycotted a national convention working out the principles for a "disciplined" democracy completed late in 2007 after 14 years, should run in the election.

"If they boycott the election, we will have to wait another three or four decades in deadlock," he said.

A committee of mainly military officers and civil servants assigned to draft the constitution would finish its work soon, the junta statement said.

"A nationwide referendum will be held in May 2008 to ratify the newly drafted constitution," it said.

"We have achieved success in economic, social and other sectors and in restoring peace and stability," said the statement issued in the name of Secretary Number One Lieutenant-General Tin Aung Myint Oo, a top member of the junta.

"So multi-party, democratic elections will be held in 2010."

Snippets of the constitution's basic principles which have appeared in state- controlled media do not point to any transfer of power to a civilian administration, or greater autonomy for Myanmar's 100-plus ethnic minorities.

The army commander-in-chief will be the most powerful man in the country, able to appoint key ministers and assume power "in times of emergency".

The military will hold 25 percent of the seats in the new parliament and hold veto power over its decisions.

The constitution is also believed likely to disbar Suu Kyi from office by ruling out anyone married to a foreigner.

Suu Kyi's husband, British academic Michael Aris, died 1999.

The surprise announcement from the junta came after Suu Kyi told her party leaders on Jan. 30 that she feared she was being strung along by the generals and worried her meetings with the junta liaison minister might lead to false hope.